Impact hope to stave off MLS playoff elimination by beating Toronto FC
Montreal Impact's Daniel Lovitz, left, moves in on Columbus Crew SC's Pedro Santos during second half MLS soccer action in Montreal, Saturday, October 6, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Kelsey Patterson, The Canadian Press
Published Saturday, October 20, 2018 2:11PM EDT
MONTREAL -- Facing elimination for the first time this season, the Montreal Impact know they need a minor miracle to make this year's Major League Soccer playoffs.
The Impact need at least four points from their remaining two games to stay alive in the three-team playoff race in the Eastern Conference. The first hurdle is defeating rivals Toronto FC in Montreal on Sunday afternoon.
Montreal (13-15-4) is seventh in the East, four points behind sixth-place D.C. United (13-11-8) and five points behind the fifth-place Columbus Crew (13-10-9). Six teams make the playoffs in each conference.
The Impact would be eliminated from playoff contention with a loss to Toronto on Sunday. Even if they beat Toronto, they'll be eliminated if D.C. wins in New York City and if Columbus defeats Orlando City.
"Our destiny isn't in our own hands right now," said midfielder Saphir Taider before practice Saturday morning. "It's complicated but everything is possible in soccer. There's no losing hope. Crazier things have happened. It would be silly of us not to give it our all going forward.
"We really want to go to the playoffs. There's no denying that. We're all competitive here. If we win our next two games, but don't make the playoffs, we won't be satisfied."
Idle for the last two weeks, the Impact could only watch as D.C. United won three consecutive one-goal games to overtake them in the standings. Montreal had been in a playoff position for three months -- since a 2-1 victory over Colorado on July 7.
Unbeaten in eight straight contests, it seems improbable D.C. will drop their two remaining games. The Crew are likelier to falter -- they've won once in their past five.
Impact forward Quincy Amarikwa says he refuses to focus on other teams, the league standings, or anything else out of his control.
"If we get too distracted with how other people are doing, or what other people think, that just takes away from our time we have to believe in ourselves," said Amarikwa, who made 11 appearances for Toronto FC in 2012. "The belief in our ability to get results is still there. You have to have a blind faith in your ability as a player and as a team."
For defending champions Toronto FC (9-17-6), who were eliminated from playoff contention two weeks ago, Sunday's clash is a chance to play spoiler.
In what has been a disappointing season for TFC, eliminating their biggest rival could be a small consolation prize.
"You're running into a team that's playing for their lives at this point," Toronto coach Greg Vanney told the team's website this week. "They're at home and they're our rivals. They have a lot of purpose to play well and we have to make sure that our collective purpose is there as well.
"These games tend to get exciting because it's almost like a knockout game. They have to come away with a win and they'll be playing as such. We'll see what kind of space opens up."
Sunday's match will also serve as a tiebreaker for the season series. The Impact beat Toronto 1-0 at Saputo Stadium in March on a first-half goal by Jeisson Vargas. Vanney's men returned the favour in August, scoring three first-half goals for the 3-1 victory.
"It's our last home game of the season," said Taider, who was on international duty with Algeria last week. "It's up to us to start the game well. We need to control this game, not give them anything."
Toronto FC (9-17-6) at Montreal Impact (13-15-4)
Sunday, Saputo Stadium
Streaking at home: The Impact have given the home fans something to cheer about this season. Montreal is unbeaten at home in its past five matches (3-0-2) and has only lost once at Saputo Stadium in its last 11 games (8-1-2).
International players return: Both teams have players back from international duty this weekend. For Montreal, Jukka Raitala (Finland), Samuel Piette (Canada) and Saphir Taider (Algeria) were away. Sebastian Giovinco (Italy), Jonathan Osorio (Canada) and Marco Delgado (United States) are back for Toronto.
Shutting them down: Toronto FC midfielder Victor Vazquez had knee surgery this week. Forward Jozy Altidore may also be shut down because of an ankle injury.
Sunday slump: TFC have yet to record a victory this season when playing on a Sunday (0-3-0).
Season finale: Montreal plays its last game of the season on the road against the New England Revolution next Sunday while Toronto hosts Atlanta United.